Saturday :: Feb 28, 2004

Don't Bug Me, Man!

by pessimist

A while back I posted about germ warfare scientists seeking tissue samples of victims of the 1918 Spanish Influenza that killed millions around the globe, and how I felt that there was a nefarious intent behind these efforts. Some of our readers took opposing positions, which generally boiled down to "They wouldn't do that!"

So what can they say now?

Superflu is being brewed in the lab
17:42 26 February 04 Exclusive from New Scientist Print Edition.

After the worldwide alarm triggered by 2003's SARS outbreak, it might seem reckless to set about creating a potentially far more devastating virus in the lab. But that is what is being attempted by some researchers.

We already know that the H5N1 bird flu virus ravaging poultry farms in Asia can be lethal on the rare occasions when it infects people. Now a team is tinkering with its genes to see if it can turn into a strain capable of spreading from human to human. If they manage this, they will have created a virus that could kill tens of millions if it got out of the lab.

Many researchers say experiments like this are needed to answer crucial questions. Why can a few animal flu viruses infect humans? What makes the viruses deadly? And what changes, if any, would enable them to spread from person to person and cause pandemics that might prove far worse than that of 1918? Once we know this, they argue, we will be better prepared for whatever nature throws at us.

Others disagree. It is not clear how much we can learn from such work, they argue. And they point out that it is already possible to create a vaccine by other means. The work is simply too dangerous, they say.

This set of arguments ignores a much more vital question: what happens when someone gets their hands on these viruses and uses them??? There are times that scientists forget that there is a real world outside of their labs.

Jacqueline Katz at the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, told New Scientist her team is already tweaking the genes of the H5N1 bird flu virus that killed several people in Hong Kong in 1997, and those of the human flu virus H3N2. She is testing the ability of the new viruses to spread by air and cause disease in ferrets, whose susceptibility to flu appears to be remarkably similar to ours. Albert Osterhaus of Erasmus University in Rotterdam in the Netherlands plans to test altered viruses on rodents and macaque monkeys. Other groups are also considering similar experiments, he says.

"Within the next decade, the whole thing will be solved," he says. "We will know the rules." In other words, once experts understand what the genetic sequence of any flu virus means, they could predict which animals it can infect, how severe it will be, and how easily it will spread.

All of which would be of great interest to biological warfare scientists. I am no Luddite by any means, and I have enough of a scientific background to understand that there are valid reasons to pursue such knowledge. But as Deep throat told Woodward and Bernstein during Watergate - "Follow the money". Those who have the gold make the rules, and they only spread the cash around when there is a benefit to be gained.

[Should Be In A] Cell Cultures

Researchers who want to see if H5N1 can be pandemic can take two approaches. One is to tinker with the genome of the bird flu virus to mimic mutations that might occur naturally. This can be done precisely using a technique called reverse genetics. The other approach is to mix bird flu genes with those of human flu viruses, either using reverse genetics or through random re-assortment in cells infected with both types. The worst-case scenario is that researchers might end up engineering extremely dangerous viruses that would never have evolved naturally. In 2001, for instance, Australian researchers created a mousepox virus far more virulent than any wild strains.

This scenario is unlikely, but not impossible, says virologist Earl Brown of the University of Ottawa, Canada. "You could create something that is right out of whack, but I'd be surprised." For those reasons, several prominent flu researchers told New Scientist that the H5N1 experiments must be done at the highest level of containment: Biosafety Level 4, or BSL-4.

But the CDC work is being done at BSL-3Ag, an intermediate level between BSL-3 and BSL-4. Workers wear half-suits with masks or hoods to prevent infection, for instance, rather than full-body suits as in BSL-4. "US Department of Agriculture guidelines specify that work with highly pathogenic avian strains be done in BSL-3+ (also known as BSL-3Ag) laboratories," a CDC spokeswomen says. One of the reasons is that the H5N1 virus is regarded as a non-contagious, treatable disease in humans. But this is not necessarily true of all of the genetically engineered strains that might be created. And drug supplies would quickly run out if an escaped virus triggered a major epidemic.

A recent report by the US National Academy of Sciences recommends a series of checks be put in place to control such research. It says a panel of leading scientists and security experts should be set up to regulate it. "Some public representation is another option," says Ronald Atlas, head of the Center for Deterrence of Biowarfare and Bioterrorism at the University of Louisville in Kentucky., who helped draw up the report. At the moment, however, such experiments can be carried out without any special consultation. Methods like reverse genetics might also be used to create new variants of other diseases. "You can make some pretty unusual things - new viruses that would never have existed in nature," says Wendy Barclay of the University of Reading in the UK, who "thought long and hard" about trying to create a pandemic flu virus before abandoning the idea. "It's not just an issue for flu."

Which might begin to exlain this little tidbit:

Germany - Mystery Virus Closes US Army Bases In Germany

A mysterious viral infection has forced military authorities in Germany to close 4 bases, ordering nearly 4000 personnel and their dependents to stay at home, authorities said on Fri 20 Feb 2004. The bases at Schwalmstadt, Schwarzenborn, Stadtallendorf, and Neustadt will be closed for 3 weeks while the premises are disinfected. "This is the worst single such infectious situation we've ever had," a Defence Ministry spokesman.

The viral epidemic began in Schwalmstadt in the central German state of Hessen, when 150 of the 800 personnel stationed there complained of inflamed and itching eyes. The Bundeswehr closed that base last week. Just 4 days later, the same symptoms cropped up at nearby Neustadt, where all 800 service personnel were told to go home until further notice.

With some 14 000 troops stationed in Hesse, German military authorities became alarmed as 2 more bases were ordered closed. "Something is being transmitted between these bases -- food, laundry, books -- something that people touch with their hands and then inadvertently transfer to their eyes," a spokesman said.

At the one base in the area that is still open, in Frankenberg, the base commander is confident the epidemic is waning. "We have had just a dozen reported cases of eye infection out of a base population of 1200," said Colonel Peter Richard, Frankenberg base commander. "We have launched hygiene drills and cleaning campaigns aimed at ensuring that this does not spread any further."

Bundeswehr medical officials note that infectious diseases are common at military bases due to the close confines of 1000 or more men and women living and working together. "This infection, however, is a definitely more stubborn than any we have seen in recent years," one military doctor told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

This may just have been a test, as was done in the United States during the 1950s, of the potential of a biological agent to spread. The condition described above sounds to be more of a nuisance than a true health hazard. The fact that US personnel on these bases are the only ones affected tends to support this. Doing this test in Germany, a country that didn't support the BushCo Iraqi Oil Grab, would just be a nice touch - a "warning" to "Old Europe" to behave and play ball before "somebody does something real".

Some countries do still take public health seriously, like the United States used to.

UK 'Superbug' Deaths Rise 15-Fold in Past Decade
Thu Feb 26, 2004 01:50 PM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain vowed Thursday to reduce hospital infections caused by a "superbug" after new figures showed deaths from the drug-resistant bacteria had climbed 15-fold in a decade. Professor Liam Donaldson, the UK's chief medical officer, said preventing infection by the "superbug" was a key priority after the Health Protection Agency (HPA) announced that 800 people died of the infection in 2002, up from 51 in 1993. "We share this problem with other countries, but we are determined to be up with the best in tackling it," he said. Cases of infection by the Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria commonly carried on the skin and nose of about one-third of healthy people, rose from 210 to 5,309 in 10 years.

Patients in intensive care units in hospitals are especially vulnerable to infection. "We found that deaths involving MRSA increased over 15-fold ... between 1993 and 2002," said Dr Georgia Duckworth of the HPA, which monitors the spread of infectious diseases in the UK. She said it was difficult to know if the "superbug" was the cause of death or just a contributing factor because most of the infections occur in people who are already very ill.
"This research however does show that MRSA is making an increasing contribution to illness and mortality," she said. Infection control procedures can reduce the spread of MRSA, Donaldson said. "While these infections will never be entirely preventable, there is more that can be done -- and is being done -- to deal with this problem," he added.

So here we are - scientists messing around with dangerous diseases and an apparent epidemiological transmission test - why? This opinion doesn't sound too off-the-wall to me:

From Patricia Doyle, PhD

Given the fact that George Bush has been spending taxpayer money like a drunken sailor, and the senior citizens are going to pay for his wars and uncontrolled spending by having social security checks cut eventually, it would not surprise me to learn that there is soon going to be a pandemic that will kill millions of elderly. That is one way to solve the Bush Administration financial woes.

Severly depleating the older population, including baby boomers, people born between 1945 and 1959 would mean the social security money they earned stays in the pot and would be used for Bush's war chest and other wild spending sprees.

Believe me, the pandemic is coming, SOON. I notice that the influenza vaccine is not going to contain an avian influenza virus strain, therefore we may expect the H5N1 or similar influenza to hit us "unexpectedly." Many people feel as I do and know that a pathogen is in a lab waiting for release. Those who want to reduce the population know that we know their intent, yet they will carry through on the plan.

Would you trust the health of your grandmother to Karl Rove?

Here's another little bio-toy being played with:

Nipah-like virus in Bangladesh
12 February 2004

From 4 January 2004 – 8 February 2004, WHO has received reports of a total of 42 cases and 14 deaths attributed to Nipah-like virus infections in Bangladesh. The infections have occurred in Manikganj (7 cases, 4 deaths) and Rajbari provinces (35 cases, 10 deaths). An additional 45 cases are under investigation.

Laboratory testing, performed by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta has confirmed Nipah-like virus in 9 of the cases to date. A team comprising experts from WHO, partners in the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, (CDC Atlanta, Epiet, France and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh) and the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research, Bangladesh is assisting the Ministry with epidemiological investigations.

Nipah-like virus in Bangladesh - update
26 February 2004

As of 26 February, WHO has received reports of 22 cases, including 17 deaths attributed to Nipah-like virus infections (see previous report). Of the total cases, 11 are laboratory confirmed. An addtional 51 cases are under investigation. The changes in the number of cases is a result of a review of the case definition and the surveillance data currently being undertaken by the team of experts from WHO, partners in the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network and the Ministry of Health.

This bug is a proven killer. So how does it work?

WHO Nipah virus Fact Sheet

Overview: Nipah virus is a newly recognized zoonotic virus. The virus was ‘discovered’ in 1999. It has caused disease in animals and in humans, through contact with infectious animals. The virus is named after the location where it was first detected in Malaysia. Nipah is closely related to another newly recognized zoonotic virus (1994), called Hendra virus, named after the town where it first appeared in Australia. Both Nipah and Hendra are members of the virus family Paramyxoviridae. Although members of this group of viruses have only caused a few focal outbreaks, the biologic property of these viruses to infect a wide range of hosts and to produce a disease causing significant mortality in humans has made this emerging viral infection a public heath concern.

Natural Host: It is currently believed that certain species of fruit bats are the natural hosts of both Nipah and Hendra viruses. They are distributed across an area encompassing northern, eastern and south-eastern areas of Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and some of the Pacific Islands. The bats appear to be susceptible to infection with these viruses, but do not themselves become ill. It is not known how the virus is transmitted from bats to animals.

Transmission: The mode of transmission from animal to animal, and from animal to human is uncertain, but appears to require close contact with contaminated tissue or body fluids from infected animals. Nipah antibodies have been detected in pigs, other domestic and wild animals. The role of species other than pigs in transmitting infection to other animals has not yet been determined.

It is unlikely that Nipah virus is easily transmitted to man, although previous outbreak reports suggest that Nipah virus is transmitted from animals to humans more readily than Hendra virus. Despite frequent contact between fruit bats and humans there is no serological evidence of human infection among bat carers. Pigs were the apparent source of infection among most human cases in the Malaysian outbreak of Nipah, but other sources, such as infected dogs and cats, cannot be excluded. Human-to-human transmission of Nipah virus has not been reported.

Clinical features: The incubation period is between 4 and 18 days. In many cases the infection is mild or inapparent (sub-clinical). In symptomatic cases, the onset is usually with "influenza-like" symptoms, with high fever and muscle pains (myalgia). The disease may progress to inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) with drowsiness, disorientation, convulsions and coma. Fifty percent of clinically apparent cases die.

Treatment: No drug therapies have yet been proven to be effective in treating Nipah infection. Treatment relies on providing intensive supportive care. There is some evidence that early treatment with the antiviral drug, ribavirin, can reduce both the duration of feverish illness and the severity of disease. However, the efficacy of this treatment in curing disease or improving survival is still uncertain.

Protection of Health Care Professionals: The risk of transmission of Nipah virus from sick animals to humans is thought to be low, and transmission from person-to-person has not yet been documented, even in the context of a large outbreak. Therefore, the risk of transmission of Nipah virus to health care workers is thought to be low. However, transmission without percutaneous exposure (through a break in the skin barrier) is theoretically possible, as respiratory secretions contain the virus. This is why it has been categorized as a biohazardous agent that should be managed in a high-level biosecurity laboratory. It is recommended that close contact with body fluids and infected tissues be avoided if Nipah infection is suspected.

Fifty percent of those known to be infected die, and that's before some Doctor StrangeGlove gets his hands on it. Sure sounds like a good candidate for a transmission study to me, especially if there is an intention to get the elderly to die off and "decrease the surplus population".

One of the things George Warmonger Bush's hero Adolf Hitler faced upon taking power was to restore the economic stability of Germany. One of the things he did was to take the assets from German Jews, who were "removed" from any contact with "polite Aryan society" and thus didn't need their own wealth anymore. With all of the steps the Bush (mis)Administration is taking to ensure that their top 1% clientele don't have to pay any taxes while taking the country on an expedition to secure the world's oil for the use of incredibly stupid and selfish SUV owners, they are going to need money to continue the Crusade for Crude. We already know that the Pentagon is going to run out of money for the "War" on "Terra" by the fourth economic quarter of 2004, and that this specific difficulty isn't going to get any easier in the future without some kind of a source of revenue.

Just try this on for size. Take your last paycheck, add up the Social Security and Medicare payments you made, multiply by 50 (just to use round numbers), multiply by the 50 (conservatively figured) years you are going to work. Don't you wish that amount was going to really be there when you would have been ready to retire! Now multiply this figure by 300 million (makes up for some of the rounding-down above). Think that might be enough to conduct the Crusade for Crude for a while?

We all know that money talks and Male Bovine Excrement walks, and with some of the meanest bastards the world has even known sitting on the most powerful arsenal of weapons (even if some aren't yet ready for use) ever known with some of the worst motivations for action that the world has long known, and you have the potential for great evil to be performed.

I doubt that the top 1% would be too squeemish about ridding the world of the rest of us - provided enough survive to act as servants.

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pessimist :: 3:59 AM :: Comments (2) :: Digg It!